Will Panel's Suggestions Be Brought About?
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
But will the Dole-Shalala recommendations have an effect?
For more on that, we turn to NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz. He says that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates should be able to act fast and with little political headwind.
GUY RAZ: This report is almost apolitical. It's, in a sense, the least controversial thing on his plate because everybody supports it across the board. And the secretary, almost immediately after the revelations came out about the poor, sort of long-term treatment for wounded vets, after that was exposed in the Washington Post, he really made it a priority. And he was widely praised by both sides of the aisle in the Congress and elsewhere for really taking that issue on.
It's really a top priority for Pentagon officials because the idea that wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan were not receiving proper long-term health care, is something that infuriated people in this country, particularly, when they're being asked to fight a war that, of course, is increasingly unpopular.
CHIDEYA: Now, one of the biggest stumbling blocks, according to this report, is whether or not the Defense Department and the V.A. actually coordinate. Some soldiers get care through the former, others the latter. Can you simplify for this and where's the breakdown in care happening?
RAZ: It's so hard to simplify because it's so complicated. But basically, the way it works now is if a soldier or a Marine is wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere, they're treated in a military hospital, the active duty, if it's the Army or the Marines, the active duty service branch will determine whether that soldier or marine is fit for duty. Now, if they decide he or she is not fit for duty, and maybe they lost an arm or a leg, they will then give them what's called the disability rating.
And my colleague, who also covers the Pentagon, Tom Bowman, sort of describes it as Army officials acting as kind of insurance agents. They will say, well, you get a 30 percent disability rating or you get a 40 percent disability rating, and it's very arbitrary. And that rating basically determines how much money you, as a wounded soldier or a Marine, are going to get in long-term healthcare coverage. It determines the amount of money you're going to get. Under the new system, the active duty service branch, the Army or the Marines, will determine if you're fit for duty. If they determine you are not fit for duty, you're then turned over to the Veterans Administration board, and they will give you a disability rating. The idea is to streamline the whole process, turn it all over to the V.A. and at that point, in theory, you're supposed to get adequate long-term health care.
CHIDEYA: Let's broaden this out a little bit. You have this new commission, which is really dealing with how America treats its veterans of these ongoing wars. And there have been other commissions; the 9/11 Commission and, more recently, the Iraq Study Group. And the study group, in particular, seems like a timely bipartisan effort. How much of that commission's recommendations has the president implemented?
RAZ: Well, Farai, of course, you know, you remember that it was coolly received by the White House when it came out last year. They didn't like a lot of the recommendations, even though it's popular among the broader general American public. So essentially, at the beginning, the White House kind of ignored it. It paid some lip service to the ISG recommendations. There were 79 recommendations. But if you notice, in the past few months, one could argue that the White House, in some ways, has been doing kind of Iraq Study Group light. You know, they have actually carried out some of the recommendations in the ISG report.
For example, they have already been two meetings between the United States and Iran at the ambassadorial level in Baghdad. But it's certainly a lot more than the administration was willing to do before. There is a lot more talk about getting Syria involved in the regional security dialogue. And, of course, there's a real effort - I mean I should stress it's an effort - to push the kind of the gulf Arab states, the Sunni states, to support the notion of reconciliation, and to support the administration of the Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. That's slow going, and this is one of the main reasons why the secretary of defense and the secretary of state have been in the region recently. And it's a reason why the president asks them to go back because this is the core of what they're trying to do. They understand they cannot bring about any kind of reconciliation in Iraq without the countries around Iraq having a role in that and having a say in that.
CHIDEYA: So you have the Iraq Study Group, a few of their recommendations sort of bubbling up. It created a political tug-of-war. And this commission, Dole-Shalala, seems a little bit less volatile politically. What's your sense at the Pentagon that the Dole-Shalala findings have or have not fallen on deaf ears?
RAZ: Well, they can't really fall in deaf ears because it's such a political hot potato. You know, it's something that the president, obviously, can't ignore. The public was up in arms about this. And he has essentially ordered the Defense Department to do everything it can to carry out the recommendations of the Shalala-Dole Commission, unlike the Iraq Study Group.
Now, there's no doubt that there are some - particularly in the army - who were a little bit peeved about the original reports that surfaced on the quality, or rather, the poor quality of the long term care that was being to soldiers. And, you know, there was a shake up in the Army. I mean many people lost their jobs back in February when these initial reports came out. So there really is a sense here at the Pentagon that, you know, this commission is the word, it's the final word. It has to be carried out. But it's going to require a lot of time, a lot of manpower and a lot of money. They're going to have to start hiring many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people to help deal with the influx of wounded soldiers who are now part of this long term care process.
CHIDEYA: Well, Guy Raz, we will definitely keep an eye on this. Thank you so much.
RAZ: Thank you, Farai.
CHIDEYA: That was NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz.
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